Border Tutorial – Cutting Fabric

With the new book, 60 Pieced Quilt Borders – Mix & Match, coming out soon, I’m going to do a mini-series of border tutorials . . mostly just a few blog posts about the way I do my borders.  There’s almost always more than one way to do things and there are plenty of ways to do most everything quilt related so I’m not saying my way is the only way or my way is the right or best way . . I’ll simply be sharing with you how I do borders.

After all of the border related blog posts have been made, I’ll do one summary post and tag that one as a “tutorial” so you’ll be able to click on the tutorial tab above and find the posts for future reference.

When I began longarm quilting for others in 1998, I realized that borders can create real problems.  I never thought much about it but the lady who did my longarm quilting for me might have had major issues with my borders.  There are so many little areas that can make such a difference when adding borders.

Not every quilt has or needs to have a border.  But if you’re adding a border, there are some “do’s and don’ts” that might help you.  If you do add borders and do everything completely different from how I do them and yours work just fine for you, that’s great.  But if you’re struggling a bit with borders or with wavy edges on your quilts, maybe some of my tips here will help you.

The first step to have nice straight and flat borders is to be sure you are cutting your fabric straight and square.  This lesson works for any portion of the quilt you’re cutting.  Your fabric must be straight and square or you will get wonky cuts at the folds.  In order to cut your strips, you’re probably going to have at least one fold in the fabric.

Above, the fabric is shown with just the one fold so that the width of the fabric we’re working with is about 21″.  I do not enjoy working with a piece of fabric this wide. My reach is not long enough and I prefer to fold it again so that I’m working with about 10″ or 11″ of fabric.  This means there are two folds that must be perfectly straight or there will be flares at the fold lines, resulting in a wavy border that doesn’t fit well.  To ensure that your folds are nice and straight, make sure that your selvages are together.  I like to tear the edge of my fabric and that gives me a straighter edge to start with.  Then I match the selvages and make sure that they line up for 12 – 15″ down the fabric.

Once the selvages are together and perfectly straight, smooth the fabric back towards the fold like, making sure there are no wrinkles and that the fabric lays completely flat at the fold.

Bring the fold up to the selvage, creating the second fold at the bottom.  Line the bottom fold up with a horizontal line on your cutting mat.  Make sure the top of this fabric piece, which consists of the original fold, and the selvages, is lined up straight too.  It may not fall right on a cutting mat horizontal line but it should be an equal distance from the cutting mat line all the way down the fabric.

Position your ruler so that a horizontal line is perfectly aligned with the bottom fold.  Check along the top line (where there’s a fold and the two selvages) and make sure that it is perfectly straight also.  Again, it may not fall right on a horizontal line but it should be straight all the way across.

For this first cut, I always cut just a tad extra and then flip the cut strip around and trim it.  For this example, my border strips are to be cut 5-1/2″ wide.  For this first cut, I will cut it about 6″ wide.  I could use the vertical line on my cutting mat and cut a straight line off the far left edge but I find that without at least an inch or so of fabric under the ruler, my cut isn’t always perfect so I always cut the first strip a little wider and then trim the other side.

Tips:

  1. Change your rotary blade often enough!  I tend to wait until I’m practically sawing through fabric and most of the time don’t even realize how dull my blade has gotten until I use someone else’s cutter and then am shocked at how dull my own blade is.
  2. Check the edges of your rulers.  Over time, we do tend to wear down the edges a bit.  I wear mine down right in the center so that after a lot of use, my ruler can be as much as 1/8″ worn down and my strips are no longer straight.
  3. Check your cutting mat.  They do wear out or get ruts.  The little bath scrubbies made out of net that you can usually buy for about $1 work great to clean threads out of ruts but if your mat is showing signs of wear, give it up and get a new one.

Once that first strip has  been cut, flip that strip around, line the left edge up with a vertical line on your mat, line the bottom edge up with a horizontal line on your ruler, making sure the width is exactly correct (in this case, the strip needs to be 5-1/2″) and trim away the extra.

As I’m cutting my strips, I’m always checking to be sure a horizontal line on my ruler matches up with the bottom fold line of my fabric, the top fold/selvage lines are straight, and the left hand line on the ruler is lining up (at the 5-1/2″ mark in this case). After cutting 5 or 6 strips, no matter how careful I am with my cutting, it seems I begin to get off a bit.  When this happens, after lining up the fold lines with horizontal lines on the ruler, I simply cut the next strip just a little wider than the needed width, flip the strip around and trim the excess and keep going.

Cutting straight strips from a straight piece of fabric is so important to having flat borders that fit perfectly!

Comments

  1. 2

    Cherrie says

    Excellent details! I cut strips almost exactly that way except I cut from the right side of the folded fabric so the ruler is always on the large piece of fabric. I use lines on the ruler and the lines on the mat. Makes it a bit easier to trim when the larger piece needs its edges “realigned.” But as you say, there is usually no right or wrong way, just what works for each individual.

  2. 4

    Marilyn Smith says

    Judy, super tutorial! I still have to cut my borders but they have come out with some wider strip dies. I love my GO cutter – have used the 2 1/2 inch strip cutter a number of times and they are straight.

  3. 5

    Sharon Spingler says

    I always cut my borders from the length of fabric……..that way I never have borders that wave at me.

    • 5.1

      Judy Laquidara says

      Most patterns are written to cut borders across the width of the fabric and many of us who work from our stashes don’t always have enough fabric to cut the borders without piecing. Even when I do have the length, I still find it more manageable to cut across the width.

  4. 6

    says

    Great explanations, Judy. I learned a few of your tips by trial and error. I wish I had found you sooner! I do like to tear the edge to find the grain. Occasionally, I have found that the cut from the fabric store was way off.

  5. 9

    Vickie Van Dyken says

    love your blog 🙂 So now what is your take on mitering those corners?? I think all my friends that do it use a slightly different method. I am anxious to see the post on it !!!!
    Thanks for the precision 🙂
    Vickie

  6. 11

    says

    I now have 3 of the strip cutter dies and use them whenever possible, but it is good to see your photos of doing strips that are wider and how to get them really straight! Thanks!

  7. 12

    says

    That was great, Judy. Makes me want to do a little “cuttin’ up”. One of these days when I become a quilter, I’ll put all this great info I’m learning from your blog to work.

  8. 13

    myrna sossner says

    I am short (4″8″) with proportionally short arms! To cut strips across the width, I like to fold the width in thirds, instead of half. As long as I spend time making sure everything is squared up, the strips are straight and true. When I try to rush, the results are not so straight and true. Sometimes I will cut the strip a little wider than needed so it can be straightened after cutting.

  9. 14

    Darlene S says

    Great tips Judy. I basically do my strips the same way as you, except I only fold it once! Sometimes it’s good to be very tall and have long arms! 🙂 Dar

  10. 16

    Debi says

    thanks so much Judy, cutting the first one a bit wider is an excellent idea – also I do tend to have a ‘bow’ to my fabric so I will check my ruler in the middle – don’t ya just love a new blade on your cutter!! I’ll keep checking back for more tips – but I will adopt these ones. thanks again.

  11. 17

    Debi says

    thanks so much Judy, cutting the first one a bit wider is an excellent idea – also I do tend to have a ‘bow’ to my fabric so I will check my ruler in the middle – don’t ya just love a new blade on your cutter!! I’ll keep checking back for more tips – but I will adopt these ones. thanks again.

  12. 18

    says

    Great tips.

    I used to cringe whenever I heard someone tearing the fabric thinking that they were distorting the edges. But I realized that I had to do that to get the true edge. Do you re-press the edges of the fabric? I can see that cutting a bit wider on the first cut and then trimming would also get rid of any stretched fabric.

    It is frustrating to get fabric only to discover that their cutting was off. At one place, I lost about 3″ off a yard cut.

  13. 19

    says

    I am so glad that you are doing this – I cannot tell you how many times I have taken a class only to be seated next to someone that is in way over their head and they know absolutely nothing about cutting the fabric. I always encourage a new quilter to LEARN THE BASICS in order to learn how to make a quilt. This is going to be so helpful – even as a reminder to those of us who “have been around” for awhile. I always rely on my ruler for exact measurement and not my cutting mat which tends to be a different measurement. Thank you from Judy C in NC

  14. 20

    pdudgeon says

    i’m another one that likes to use the length of fabric for my borders whenever possible. as for measuring across the remaining width for subsequent smaller cuts, i have no problem at all. I just substitute the new width figure in my calculations and i’m off to the races!
    also whenever possible i use the pre-cut jelly roll stirps for any blocks or strips that are 2 1/2 inches wide or smaller. it makes those HST’s a cinch!